This blog was originally posted in Stanford Social Innovation Review's Communities Creating Health series.
Problems can be simple, complicated, or complex. Building a hospital is an example of a relatively simple challenge; given the necessary resources and expertise, we can generally predict the cost, timeline, and end result. Developing a vaccine represents a more-complicated challenge—it may take many attempts before a group develops a successful formula, but once it does, it can reproduce the vaccine and expect to see consistent results.
Complex problems are quite different, because they involve systems—ever-changing, non-linear environments. Making progress on complex problems requires that we understand the interplay between multiple independent factors that influence each other in dynamic ways. While constructing the hospital itself might be relatively straightforward, when you factor in raising the money for the project, getting buy-in from the community, staffing, and other factors, it becomes more complex. Similarly, the complicated science of developing a vaccine evolves into a complex problem when you add in the challenges of investing in R&D for a product that meets a public need but does not feed an ongoing market, or convincing some communities that taking up the vaccine is a good idea.
About the series
Co-curated by Pritpal S. Tamber, Bridget B. Kelly, and Leigh Carroll on behalf of the Creating Health Collaborative, the Communities Creating Health series brings together the voices of community members, implementers, evaluators, and funders, and builds on a meeting hosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on how evaluations in health can align more closely with what communities value. Read Jeff's full post and other posts from the series at Stanford Social Innovation Review and join the conversation on social media with #creatinghealth.